The Student News Site of Gonzaga College High School

The Aquilian

The Aquilian

The Aquilian

Mr. Chris Smith, SJ, shares his journey to Catholicism


Mr. Chris Smith, SJ, is a biology and chemistry teacher, writer and young Jesuit in training. He enjoys growing plants and gardening, languages, traveling and walking “ridiculously long distances.” Mr. Smith has also been teaching himself to play piano over the course of the pandemic. However, one thing that makes him really stand out is the fact that he is the only Black American Jesuit in formation on earth.

And that almost didn’t happen… because Mr. Smith did not grow up as a Catholic. 

“I’m from Asheville, North Carolina… that’s where I grew up, that’s where my parents lived,” he said. “I was raised Quaker.”

Mr. Smith described some of his childhood.

As a kid, Mr. Smith said, “I was a nerd. I loved to do experiments. I loved to read,” but he also loved to do some “regular kids stuff… like riding bikes.” 

Mr. Smith talked about his childhood religion with the utmost respect saying, “Quakers are a lovely denomination; they are what we call a peace church, they’re pacifists.” 

Mr. Smith is very knowledgeable about the Quaker Church and seems to have taken away a good bit from the religion.

“They were abolitionists, […] they fought for women’s suffrage before it was cool,” he said with a smile.

Although he admires the Quakers, as a boy, he found the religion to be a bit boring and often pretty monotonous.

“Everyone just sits in silence and sometimes people feel led to speak… some people you wish wouldn’t speak,” he said chuckling.

Although he was young, Mr. Smith began to grow tired of the dull and seemingly unfulfilling atmosphere, and he seemed to be looking for something more. On a fourth-grade trip into downtown Asheville, North Carolina, Mr. Smith recalled touring a large Catholic basilica.

“I was mesmerized by it because it was, and continues to be, the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen,” Mr. Smith said.

 He later realized he only lived about a mile from that very church, and a year later, in the fifth grade, he decided to attend his first Mass.

Remembering his first time at a Catholic Mass, he says the whole scene was extremely interesting to him, but also very inviting. Mr. Smith also recalls having had some similar feelings while participating in Jewish rituals with his best friend as a kid.

After Mass, he said, “All the old ladies came… and they all asked about me, talked to me, and welcomed me… because I was a kid by myself at Mass.”

This was not his only visit to the church.

“I kept coming back. They loved me. There was something special about that place,” he said.

About a month later, he declared to his parents that he wanted to become a Catholic. Just after his 12th birthday, he was baptized, confirmed and received his First Holy Communion.

Mr. Smith says he was inspired to become a Jesuit priest after reading books written by Fr. Walter Ciszek, SJ, a Polish-American missionary who snuck into the USSR to minister Russian Catholics within the suppressed country.

“I read With God and Russia. I picked up the book and I read it from cover to cover. I found it so inspiring,” he said.

Mr. Smith says that one thing he really loves about the Society of Jesus is that “since the beginning, it has attracted all sorts of people: kooks, saints, sinners, liberals, conservatives, actors, scientists, Canon lawyers.” He continued to describe the Jesuits as “…a broad swath of crazy people who all do them for God’s glory. They don’t try and be like anybody else.”

Now, Mr. Smith tries to emulate the path and life’s work of those like Fr. Ciszek by completing his own, unique mission in the Society of Jesus to the best of his abilities.

Mr. Smith said very emphatically, “Jesuits, if there’s one thing that unites us, it’s that we all do us for God’s glory.”

View Comments (2)
Donate to The Aquilian

Your donation will support the student journalists of Gonzaga College High School. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Aquilian

Comments (2)

All The Aquilian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • P

    Pam ValeirasJun 1, 2021 at 11:24 am

    Excellent and informative article. We are lucky to have Mr. Smith as a part of out community!

  • C

    Carol CorganMay 31, 2021 at 3:35 pm

    LOVELY! Thank you for this piece on Mr. Smith.